Resolution on Right to Legal and Accessible Abortion in the United States

“If anyone kills any human being, he shall be put to death”  (Leviticus 24:17). In the Mekhilta d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai (21:12), the midrash teaches that a fetus is not a living person: “The Torah says ‘[one who strikes] a man’ (Exodus 21:12), meaning a viable human being, to exclude the fetus.” Expounding on this idea, we find in the teshuvah of R. Eliezer Waldenberg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, part 13, No. 102: “One should permit…abortion as soon as it becomes evident without doubt from the test that, indeed, such a baby (diagnosed with Tay-Sachs) shall be born, even until the seventh month of her pregnancy… If, indeed, we may permit an abortion according to the Halakhah because of ‘great need’ and because of pain and suffering, it seems that this is the classic case for such permission.  And it is irrelevant in what way the pain and suffering is expressed, whether it is physical or psychological. Indeed, psychological suffering is in many ways much greater than the suffering of the flesh.”

The Rabbinical Assembly, more than forty years ago, became a founding member of the Religious Coalition of Reproductive Choice (RCRC). We have passed resolutions in 2005, 2007, and 2012, published a statement in 2019, and supported education and advocacy for reproductive freedom. For five decades the Rabbinical Assembly has affirmed the halakhic necessity of access to abortion in teshuvot – modern rabbinic responses.

We are deeply troubled by the continued erosion and decline of reproductive rights. Legislative efforts in the United States on both the federal and state levels continue to pose new threats to reproductive freedom. These threats include, but are not limited to, the personhood movement which defines life as beginning at conception, legislative efforts to require ultrasounds prior to abortion, fetal-homicide laws, and intense restrictions aimed at closing women’s health clinics. As a result, many clinics have been forced to shut down and some states only have one or two clinics.

Additionally, these efforts to restrict reproductive freedom acutely discriminate against communities of color, people with lower-income, as well as LGBTQ individuals and couples. For example: In 2017, Vice-President Mike Pence cast the tie breaking vote to strip Title X protections from health clinics that also provide abortion services. Planned Parenthood to Withdraw From Title X Funding Program Over Abortion Restrictions - WSJ. The loss of Title X protection disproportionately limits access to women who have very low incomes or lack health insurance - depriving them of lifesaving care, such as cancer screenings, birth control, STD testing and treatment, and well-woman exams. States can now take away funding from these clinics and many have been forced to shut down. In an article by Planned Parenthood published in 2016 it was reported: In 2014, 15% of Planned Parenthood patients were Black (more than 360,000 people), and 23% of Planned Parenthood patients were Latinos (more than 575,000 people). Meanwhile, 75% of Planned Parenthood patients have incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL).

Recently, we have seen politicians use the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to further limit access to abortions

Therefore be it resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly stand united against:

• Bans on abortion that are a direct violation of constitutional rights confirmed by Roe v. Wade;

• Requirements that doctors provide information that is “intended to discourage the procedure -- even if the information is irrelevant, unnecessary, and ultimately harmful to her health” and/or other state-mandated medical protocols intended to deter abortion;

• Restrictions on the ability to access medication which facilitate abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy;

• Manipulation of Covid-19 safety protocols to prevent abortions;

• The “Hyde Amendment”, a federal provision that prohibits funds to abortion programs in US states except to save the life of the woman or in cases of rape and incest; and

Be it further resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly stand united in support of:

• Upholding the decisions of Roe v. Wade;

• Reproductive freedom for all human beings;

• U.S. legislation such as the EACH Woman Act of 2019 and The Women’s Health Protection Act  (WHPA S. 1645) which protects both a woman’s right to choice as well as the health care providers ability to provide reproductive care;

• President Biden’s executive order of January 28, 2021 which ended what has become known as the “Mexico City Policy” which prevented federal funds from going to organizations that provide abortions, abortion counselling, advocate for the legal right to abortion, or fund abortions.  This executive order also removes the US from a 2020 resolution known as the “Geneva Consensus”, a non-binding charter of more than 30 countries that oppose abortion.  Furthermore, he instructed the US Health Department to immediately consider removing restrictions to Title X initiated by the previous administration;

• Expanding tele-health options to enable greater access to medically-induced abortions;

• Partnering with the National Council of Jewish Women and other organizations that protect reproductive rights and freedoms;

• Educating our communities on issues that affect reproductive rights.

Therefore be it further resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly urge its members to support full access for all individuals to the entire spectrum of reproductive healthcare, and to oppose all efforts by federal, state, local or private entities or individuals to limit such access; and

Be it further resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly call on our colleagues to continue to protect reproductive freedom, through education, advocacy, and coalition building.